Is Dental Insurance Worth the Cost?

Not every plan makes financial sense. Here is how to find the good ones -- plus 10 alternative ways to cut dental bills.

You need medical insurance, if only to protect against the cost of an accident or illness so expensive that you could be ruined financially. But do you really need dental insurance?

Brushing and flossing your teeth diligently can help you avoid the most likely causes and expenses of dental problems, decay and gum disease. But some teeth are more prone to problems — and when there is a problem, costs can mount quickly.

About 77 percent of Americans have dental insurance, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. Two-thirds — about 164 million people — have private coverage. Nearly 84 million get coverage through a publicly funded program, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Tricare.

Around 90 percent of people with private coverage get benefits through an employer, or a group program such as AARP. Dental plans offered through a workplace typically are one of three types:

  • Indemnity plan: You choose your provider of choice, and your plan pays a percentage of the fees.
  • PPO: Preferred provider organization plans have groups of practitioners who agree to reduced fees for patients within the network. Your costs are lower with network dentists. You may see out-of-network dentists, but it’ll cost you more.
  • HMO: Health maintenance organizations cut costs by requiring members to use only providers within the network.

Premiums for an individual with a group dental plan in 2016 averaged from $14 to $30.50 a month ($168 to $366 annually), says the NADP. For families, monthly averages were between $27 and $57 ($325 and $681 annually).

Coverage varies by plan, and plan type. However, the NADP describes these elements of coverage in a typical plan:

  • Preventive care: periodic exams, X-rays and, for some age groups, sealants — 100 percent.
  • Basic procedures: office visits, extractions, fillings, root canals and periodontal treatment — 60-80 percent.
  • Major procedures: crowns, bridges, inlays, dentures and sometimes implants and root canals (if not covered under basic) — 50 percent

Orthodontics coverage usually can be purchased as a rider, says the NADP. Cosmetic care is not covered.

Is insurance worth it?

Dental insurance might not be worth the cost. It depends on your plan, your needs and the cost of the services available.

In deciding if an insurance plan is right for you, weigh:

  • The annual price of premiums.
  • The cost of the dental care you need.
  • Your policy’s limit on how much it pays out in benefits, and whether you can roll over unused benefits from the previous year.
  • Policy coverage.

According to Angie’s List:

While many dental policies focus on preventive measures by offering two annual visits, you’ll really start seeing the savings with more expensive treatments, like root canals and crowns.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance providers to offer dental insurance for children younger than 18.

You also might be able to purchase health insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace, or your state’s marketplace. Adult dental coverage may be offered as part of a comprehensive health plan or as stand-alone dental insurance.

10 alternatives to dental insurance

Dental insurance isn’t the only way to cut dental bills. Here are 10 other ways to cut your costs:

1. Self-pay

It may be less expensive to pay out of pocket than to buy a plan. Fees vary by dentist’s office and by geographic region. According to the CostHelper website, you can expect to pay $70 to $200 to have your teeth cleaned, and $20 to $250 or more for X-rays.

2. Preventive care

In many cases, the best way to save on dentistry is to take excellent care of your teeth and gums and to learn and deploy healthy dental routines.

For example, fruit juices, carbonated drinks and acidic foods can help wear away your tooth enamel. So brushing — and reducing intake of such foods — can be a big help.

The American Dental Association tells you how to brush correctly, how to floss effectively and offers more information on dental health.

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